Monday, April 18, 2011

You are so Lucky: A Truth about Giftedness

This post diverges a bit from my usual writings, but I felt it needed to be addressed. (It's my blog, and I'll whine if I want to, whine if I want to, . . . .)

As many of you know, my eldest son is gifted. Definitely highly gifted, maybe exceptionally, but I don't believe profoundly. If you are unfamiliar with the distinctions, I encourage you to read What is Highly Gifted? Exceptionally Gifted? Profoundly Gifted? And What Does It Mean? at Hoagies Gifted Education Page. My husband and I have chosen not to have our son tested for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is cost.

Personally, I believe "gifted" is an unfortunate term, as it implies that I think my son is somehow superior to other children. Better terms might be "highly intelligent" (although, some folks feel this is elitist) or "neuro-non-typical" (this takes more time to explain than it's worth). Regardless, "gifted" is the accepted term, and I'm not going to expend energy trying to change it.

How do we know our son is gifted? He started talking, clearly, at 10 months ("clock" and "light"); was reading by 3.5 years old; could add, subtract, multiply, and divide by 4.5; has a tremendous memory, with his earliest verifiable memory at six months; and on and on.

When people first meet my eldest, they quickly comment on how smart he is. He talks with adults like an adult. He understands and can explain concepts that are deep, varied, and interesting. He is confident in his knowledge, but not rude (usually) in his delivery. Adults will soon ask if he is homeschooled (yes) and then inevitably say, "You are so lucky he's smart. It must be easy."

At this point, I feel like a heel. Why? Because I don't feel lucky. My son doesn't feel lucky, either. Being so far advanced has its downsides, and these are enormous in the life of a child.

First, many, although not all, gifted children are "twice exceptional" or "2e." They may be endowed with high intelligence, but they have other issues which hamper their learning or social interactions.

For my son, his undiagnosed issue is "overexcitability," as defined by Kazimierz Dabrowski. My son is intense. Not just passionate, but intense. Like the difference between sitting in your yard on a hot summer day and standing on the surface of the sun. He intensely loves math. He intensely loves reading. He intensely loves science. He intensely loves his mom. But, he also intensely sees injustice (according to his definition at the moment). He is intensely competitive. He reacts intensely to perceived failures or shortcomings. He has intense meltdowns.

If these reactions were simply pouting or foot-stomping, he'd be all right. Instead, they're meltdowns of epic proportions: crying, screaming, hyperventilating, . . . . Usually, I can stop it before it starts, but not always. And once begun, it must run its course. As he gets older, he has more self-control, but not always. He knows that other kids don't react like this. He doesn't want to react like this. But once he's headed down that road, it's a hard slog back to calmness.

Another reason we don't feel lucky? Making friends his own age is tremendously difficult. They simply don't understand him. Now, these kids are perfectly nice kids from perfectly nice families. But, when my son starts talking about CDs as an "investment vehicle in a diversified portfolio," they're put off. Understandably, really. My son would love to connect with more kids his own age, but once he's been rebuffed, he doesn't react well. We're working on this, but teaching him linear algebra is easier, trust me.

He does have a few friends a year or two older, with whom he loves running around and playing. But, intellectually, he really feels most comfortable around older teens and adults who treat him as an equal. This can be difficult for some adults, but those who "get" him have no issue with it. We talk about how "friends" come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, and how, as he gets older, it will get simpler. He understands this, but it doesn't always make the present easier.

Please don't get me wrong. I love my son more than life itself. I wouldn't change him for all the tea in China. What I would like is for a little less judging from people when he flips. I would love for him to be able to straddle the emotional divide between childhood and adulthood with more grace. I would love for him to be at peace with himself, without all the work that we constantly need to do. I would love for him to be accepted and accept himself for the loving, intelligent, insightful, curious, funny person he is.

So, while we don't always feel so lucky about the hand our son was dealt, I feel tremendously fortunate to have such an amazing person in my life.

Article by Sarah J. Wilson

1 comment:

  1. Sarah:

    Your son IS lucky to have parents like you. Having raised two highly gifted children without your insight and knowledge, I know it 'ain't' easy.

    I salute your for your understanding of your son and how you handle the difficult times; of which I know are many.

    Don't get discourage. You are raising a person who will contribute much good to society.